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Sports

Nationals begin new campaign vs HK

Olmin Leyba - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines —  This may not have the high stakes offered in Gilas Pilipinas’ last international outing. But even then, the Nationals are treating tonight’s away showdown with lightweight Hong Kong with as much importance as their Asian Games gold medal tussle with Jordan last October in Hangzhou, China.

For coach Tim Cone, the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers Group B opening game set at 8 p.m. at the Tsuen Wan Stadium figures well in the grand scheme of things for it serves as a starting block for the four-year Gilas program aimed at ultimately making the Olympics.

“Our goal is to do that (crack the 2028 Olympiad) but we’re not thinking about that or talking about that as a group. Our focus is what it’s going to take to get us there,” said Cone, who assembled a 12-man squad that will be on call for every international window, beginning this one, all the way to 2027.

He said the Asia Cup Qualifiers will be the gateway to the Continental meet, which in turn will be the entryway to the next FIBA World Cup, which will then be the  doorway to the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

“We keep telling our guys, we’re not going to shortcut or jump around; we’re going to build consistently forward. That’s why this (Asia Cup Qualifiers opening window) is important,” he said.

“Yes, it’s important that we win. But it’s even more important that we build a foundation from which we can bring to the next window and from which we can go on to the next one and the next one after that.”

First order of business: Get the Gilas machine off to a good start versus HK.

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